Alex Smith understands his NFL career always will be weighed against that of Aaron Rodgers.
That’s the inescapable reality of being the No. 1 overall pick in your draft class, but the second-best quarterback. In 2005, the distinction between the two wasn’t as clear when the San Francisco 49ers tabbed Smith as their guy and Rodgers fell down to the Green Bay Packers at No. 24.
Rodgers sat for three years behind future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, while Smith was thrown into the fire immediately. He battled season-ending shoulder injuries and survived a series of different offensive coordinators, including future Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
It wasn’t until Jim Harbaugh arrived in the Bay Area in 2011 that his career finally began to stabilize. By that time, Rodgers already had led the Packers to a Super Bowl title and was on the verge of the becoming NFL MVP, a distinction he’s now received on two occasions.
Ten years later, the comparisons don’t bother Smith, who is fine with his own career. Entering his third season with Kansas City, the 31-year-old quarterback has thrown for more than 20,000 yards, started more than 100 regular-season games and even played in a Pro Bowl.
“Coming out of college, of course we’re all competing,” said Smith in his conference call Thursday. “You’re at the same position, so certainly you’re competing against each other. You can definitely understand it at the time, but at this point? Eleven years later, he’s got 2 MVPs and a Super Bowl. I think he’s done OK, you know. I certainly think draft status, whatever, we’ve certainly moved beyond that.”
Rodgers is known for using self-motivation and channeling it into his play, but considers the fallout from the 2005 draft “ancient history as far as I’m concerned.” He also holds no ill will toward Smith for being the quarterback who was drafted ahead of him.
Today, Rodgers considers Smith a close friend.
“Alex and I are good buddies,” Rodgers said. “He’s one of the guys I pull for. He’s a great guy — and he’s been through a lot in his career with different coaches and teams now, and he’s done a great job. I’m really happy for him. He’s one of those guys I really pull for when I’m not playing him. So, it’s good to spend a little time with him and no animosity whatsoever.”
Smith admits the hardest stretch of his career came in the first three seasons when he was trying to prove to everyone he was worthy of the first overall pick. Instead, he threw only one touchdown in seven starts his rookie season en route to a 40.8 passer rating.
Eventually, Smith found his rhythm. He even bested Rodgers and the Packers in their most recent encounter in 2012 when he was the starting quarterback in San Francisco's 30-22 win at Lambeau Field.
Smith never has won an MVP award, but he’s not using Rodgers’ accomplishments as the barometer for his own success, either.
“This is our 11th year,” Smith said. “You get the what-ifs and our guys even ask me here. I don’t give it any thought. I am where I am, and in the end it’s not a reality to even think about that stuff, so why would I even do that? You know? I’m so happy with where I’m at right now professionally and in life, and I think Aaron has done OK for himself.”
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